New SAT Format Sparks Familiar Debates

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We all remember those standardized tests we took back in our days as high school students: those four-hour exams that we took over and over again to get the right score. Our future relied on the scores we received three weeks after we took the exam. To get into a UC campus, we were required to take both the SATs and the SAT IIs so that our writing abilities could be assessed.
On March 12 at 8:15 a.m., current high school juniors across the nation took the new and improved SATs. This time the test got rid of those nasty analogies and added a writing section similar to that of the SAT II Writing Exam we once took. A 25-minute time limit to write a wonderful essay; you know how it goes. The scoring of the SATs also changed quite a bit; instead of being scored out of 1,600 points the test is now worth 2,400 points.
There is a debate among top universities about whether or not the new hour-long section will even be used to judge applicants’ profiles. So, are students paying and studying extra for no reason? So far, the College Board only knows of 429 universities (including the Ivy Leagues and the University of California) out of the 1,600 surveyed who plan on using the new writing scores to evaluate applicants.
Even with this information, the College Board continues to require students to take the new writing portion, when previously, students had the option to pay extra and take the SAT II writing exam. This seems almost as if the College Board is imposing the new exam simply to profit from the hundreds of thousands of high school students that take the exams every year. Testing agencies like Kaplan and Princeton Review are also going to profit from these applicants.
The SAT’s competitor, the ACT exam, unbeknownst to most also introduced a writing section this year but is not requiring students to take it. Only about half the ACT test takers volunteered to take this recommended exam, according to ACT officials. This company has long been praised as offering an exam that accurately assesses students and is now showing that they care about their student’s needs by making the writing portion voluntary. This opportunity to choose not being offered by the College Board.
The College Board maintains that the rationale for the new writing section is so admissions officers can review an applicant’s essay that was written independent of the aid of teachers or other sources an applicant’s may turn to for help in writing application essays. In some respects they are justified in this, as students are known to seek out testing agencies and teachers for help with their essays.
However, if universities were truly concerned with the correlation between application essays and the essays written during standardized testing they would have required the extra hour-long SAT II writing exams, as the UC did.
The debate about the legitimacy of the test scores has also been debated over and over by university researchers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that there is a correlation between the length of essays and the test scores they receive. The College Board maintains that this is so because longer essays are far more developed than their shorter counterparts.
MIT research shows that 400-word essays are likely to receive a score of 400, whereas shorter 100-word essays are likely to receive lower scores.
MIT and nearly half of the four-year universities across America will not be evaluating writing scores this year but will begin doing so next And rightfully so, because the test scores, as shown by MIT, may not be an accurate reflection of a student’s ability.
After evaluating many factors, most universities have chosen not to require the amplified SAT writing scores. Perhaps, after more research, more universities will take to evaluating the new SAT writing portion that students pay much more to take.

Sidra Ahmad is a first-year literary journalism major.

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